Svalbard is the most exotic place I have ever been to! I have been to beautiful places in the Far East and the Caribbean islands, but to me this is the most fantastic place on Earth.
There are many places I would like to see, and Svalbard wasn’t even on my bucket list, but when my best friend booked an SAS Euro bonus flight to the island, I wanted to come along too.
Svalbard is a group of islands in the Arctic Ocean and it is the most northern part of Norway. It is about halfway between mainland of Norway and the North Pole. The islands have an Arctic climate, but it has higher temperature than other areas that far north. During the summer, plants grow quickly during the midnight sun and Svalbard is a breeding ground for many seabirds. There are also more than 3000 polar bears, reindeer, Arctic fox and walrus. Sixty percent of land is covered by glaciers, and the islands have mountains and fjords. Longyearbyen has midnight sun from April 20 to August 23.
Svalbard was first used as a whaling base in the 17th and 18th centuries. The islands were abandoned, but in the beginning of the 20th century, the coal mining started and several permanent villages were built. The biggest settlement is the city Longyearbyen and the Russian mining community Barentsburg. There are no roads to connect the settlements, instead they use snowmobiles, boats and aircrafts.
Longyearbyen from the other side of the Adventsfjord
John Longyear from Michigan, started the Arctic Coal Company and set up a mining operation for around 500 people in 1906. The settlement was known as Longyear City. Today it is Longyearbyen, meaning Longyear City in Norwegian.
We were three good friends that travelled to Svalbard in late July from Friday to Monday. We stayed at Radisson Blu Polar Hotel Spitsbergen in Longyearbyen. The view from the restaurant where we had breakfast, was spectacular. We could see out on the Adventfjord and Hiorthfjellet on the other side of the fjord. Barentz Pup & Spiseri is also located at this hotel. You can get snacks and light meals here and meet the locals – great place.
We met this guy in the hotel lobby.
In Longyearbyen it is a local custom to take your shoes off indoors and you’ll see a sign kindly asking you to do so in many establishments like hotels, the Svalbard Museum and the church. You also leave your gun at the door. Due to all the polar bears it is required to carry a gun when you leave the settlement. The guns are for warning shots and self-defense. The polar bears are strictly protected and may be shot only in case of direct danger to human life or health. Clever signs remind you, “All the polar bears in this shop are already dead, please leave your weapon with the staff.”
The houses in Longyearbyen are built on stilts, due to the permafrost. The soil is frozen year round and ranges from 10 to 40 meters deep. I love these colour full wooden houses in Longyearbyen.
After checking in to our hotel, we went for a stroll in Longyearbyen. Svalbard is a duty-free zone, it is mainly outdoor clothing and equipment to shop, but you can buy tax-free wine at Nordpolet.
After some strolling and shopping we got ready for dinner. We had made reservations at Huset which is the world’s northernmost gourmet restaurant. I will write more about this amazing restaurant in the next post.
Thank you for reading!